(Aug. 7) CINCINNATI — Having spent much of the last year in a cutting mode, Chiquita Brands International Inc. wants a slice of a business segment — fresh-cut fruit — that it has avoided.

On Aug. 4 the banana marketer and distributor said it would introduce a line of fresh-cut fruit products in the fall — October is the company’s stated goal — for markets in the Midwest.

The company’s first fresh-cut processing plant will open in the fourth quarter near Chicago and serve retailers from Minneapolis to Memphis and Kansas City to Pittsburgh.

NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT

The company admits it had lagged behind rivals Dole Food Co. Inc. and Fresh Del Monte Inc. in a burgeoning fresh-cut fruit business but adds that the time is right to get started.

“It’s a natural evolution for us,” said Jill Albrinck, senior vice president of strategy and new business. “We waited to enter this high-growth category until we had a product line worthy of the Chiquita brand. We now have the premium products consumers want. It’s a good fit with our brands.”

The company wanted to develop a systems approach to maintaining shelf life of the products before getting started in the cut-fruit business, Albrinck added.

ARRAY OF FRUIT

Chiquita’s initial product line will contain various combinations of watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries and grapes — in a variety of package sizes, from single servings to party trays, Albrinck said.

The company plans to eventually operate nationally and is evaluating the best way to accelerate the rollout of its fresh-cut business.